The UK government’s decision to end a specialist contract for Speech Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) will put 1.4 million children and young people at risk, sector leaders have warned.
The decision by the Department for Education (DfE) was greeted with shock and dismay when it was announced earlier this year. A change.org petition, initiated by NAPLIC, an organisation that represents professionals supporting language and communication development, has amassed over 28,000 signatures in just two weeks.
DfE funding for SLCN has been in place for the last 10 years. Campaigners say its removal will leave one of the most vulnerable groups of children within the UK without support.
SLCN is one of the most common childhood disabilities. Estimates indicate that as many as 10 per cent of all children have SLCN, and for a substantial proportion of this group, their needs will be long term and persistent. It is reported that two children in every classroom will have Developmental Language Disorder, just one of a range of SLCN, but most teachers are unaware of the condition.
Speech, language and communication skills are essential to enabling social mobility, an area the DfE has identified as being a key priority. In some areas of social disadvantage, more than half of children start school with delayed language skills. The repercussions for undetected and untreated SLCN are devastating. Recent research shows that children with SLCN are at higher risk of exclusion from school and that 60-90 per cent of young people in the youth justice system have SLCN.
Critics of the DfE’s decision say that its proposed new contract – the Strategic Support to the Workforce in Mainstream and Special Schools – makes no mention of speech, language and communication whatsoever. This will see a significant cut to any funding that SLCN receives and a detrimental reduction of specialist support, resources and services. The new contract is set to come into force on 1 April 2018. The Department has offered no evidence that explains its eleventh-hour decision.
Octavia Holland, Director of The Communication Trust (TCT), a consortium that represents over 50 not-for-profit organisations working in the sector, said:
The DfE’s plans to cut funding for speech, language and communication needs are shockingly short sighted. The demand for expert programmes of support, from those who work directly with children and young people, has increased by over 20 per cent in the last year alone. A decade’s continuous funding has led to a very highly regarded service which will now have to be disbanded. This is incredibly wasteful and misguided and we’re still in the dark about the rationale for this decision.
TCT was established in 2007 in response to concerns about the lack of understanding about children’s speech, language and communication within early years, school and further education settings. Its work over the past decade has been highly praised. Much of this will be undone should funding for SLCN cease. TCT’s annual budget of £650,000 equates to less than 50p per affected child.
Stephen Parsons, Chair of NAPLIC said:
The Communication Trust has done a brilliant job of leading and supporting a wide range of practitioners from Early Years to FE Colleges. They provide trusted, accessible information that allows practitioners to improve the quality of their practice and be more efficient. To cut the funding of TCT feels like a huge own goal.
Sarah Winstanley, Speech and Language Therapist said:
Speechless. I can’t believe that the Department for Education are choosing not to renew the SLCN contract which funds The Communication Trust. The Communication Trust provides excellent advice, resources, training and support for all those supporting children and young people with SLCNs. More funding is needed not less!
TCT has submitted a short-term, low-cost transition plan to the DfE that assumes a greatly reduced team of 4.6 FTE members of staff after 1 April. The post of Director is among those to go. The reduced team will report to Bob Reitemeier, the CEO of the children’s communication charity I CAN.